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Steve Sawyer has coached Hamilton-Wenham cross-country for more than 40 years, but he’s never had a group quite like this year’s boys’ team

With an eye on returning Hamilton-Wenham to its glory days, juniors Isaac Jones (from left), Jack Creilson, Clark Glidden, Ben Rich, and James Regan put in extra miles last summer.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Over his five decades coaching cross-country at Hamilton-Wenham, Steve Sawyer has led state-contending teams, young teams, overmatched teams, and just about everything else.

In recent years, Sawyer, 80, has adjusted to teams lacking elite talent. Since winning the Division 2 state title in 2015, the boys’ team has not finished in the top five. The girls’ team had its remarkable 148-dual meet win streak snapped in 2018, and has since finished in the Cape Ann League’s top three just once.

With Sawyer in the final stage of his career, an influx of fresh talent was needed to reignite the program’s successful past.


Enter the boys’ class of 2025.

After joining the cross-country team together in middle school, five boys runners, all the same age, have quickly transformed Hamilton-Wenham’s into a Division 3 contender. As sophomores last year, they comprised the Generals’ top five runners, culminating in an eighth-place finish at the Division 3 state meet, the program’s highest mark since 2015.

The No. 19 Generals kick off their season Wednesday against Georgetown, and with all five returning as juniors, they are embracing their role in returning Hamilton-Wenham boys’ cross-country to prominence — both for themselves, and their Hall of Fame coach.

“We’re probably in one of coach Sawyer’s last seasons, or one of the last dynasties that he will have on the boys’ side,” said Clark Glidden, one of the Generals’ three captains. “We’re trying to close it out with a really big bang, and make the program known again.”

Glidden is among Hamilton-Wenham’s top three runners, along with Ben Rich and James Regan, who all finished in the top 20 at last year’s Division 3A meet. Jack Creilson and Isaac Jones fill in the fourth and fifth spots, respectively, and freshman Cole Regan is among the young runners expected to push the top group.


“I’ve never had one class overall as strong as this group,” Sawyer said. “I’ve usually had maybe two really good seniors, and some decent younger guys behind them. But now I’ve got these five kids, and I think this might be one of the strongest [boys’] teams I’ve ever had.”

Sawyer was hired as a math teacher at Hamilton-Wenham in 1969, and became an assistant cross-country coach soon after. He became head coach for boys’ and girls’ cross-country in 1979 and for track in 1981, and has remained as coach after retiring from teaching nearly 20 years ago.

“It’s really cool that he’s still coaching us,” Rich said. “Maybe people thought he was planning to retire soon, and then us five come in as freshmen, and now he’s going to be here to help coach us through our senior year.”

The group flew under the radar as sophomores, but the bar is much higher this season: The Generals were ranked third in the MSTCA’s Division 3 preseason coaches poll, and have ambitions of winning the Cape Ann crown.

“We’re trying to make a really big jump this season,” Glidden said. “James and I both dropped almost a minute last year, and Ben dropped over 2 minutes. This year, we’re trying to each drop another minute off to get into the low 16 [minutes], and be really competitive at the All-State level.”

Glidden, Regan, and Rich all trained throughout the summer at Peabody’s distance camp. Once they returned for fall practice, Sawyer felt they were ready to handle a bigger training load.


“I’ve been doing a lot more distance with these kids, because they’re older and they can handle it,” Sawyer said. “It’s a question of how do I push them, when do I push them, and how far? You learn that over the years.”

With a full year as varsity contributors behind them, the Generals are primed for the next leap.

“I feel like in past years, some of us misplaced our training or took a while to ramp up,” Regan said. “This year, I feel like our coach and the team are really in sync. We know the goals we want to reach, and we’re going to get there.”

“I’ve usually had maybe two really good seniors, and some decent younger guys behind them. But now I’ve got these five kids, and I think this might be one of the strongest [boys’] teams I’ve ever had.” STEVE SAWYER, Hamilton-Wenham cross-country coach. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Setting the Pace

▪ The MSTCA’s 2023 Hall of Fame Class was honored Sunday at its annual awards banquet in Wakefield.

This year’s five inductees included three active coaches: Amesbury’s Ernie Bissaillon, Wellesley’s John Griffith, and Pembroke’s James Rooney. In addition, the MSTCA inducted Steve Nugent, the former track coach and current athletic director at North Andover, and Doc McCarthy, the longtime track coach at Arlington.

“It’s the highest honor you can receive as a Massachusetts track coach,” said Bissaillon, who has coached track for 35 years and cross-country for 10.

Griffith has led Wellesley’s girls’ team to six consecutive Division 2 outdoor titles, and framed the honor as a reflection on his runners and assistant coaches as much as himself.

“Fifteen years ago when I took the job, I just wanted to build a program where the girls would have fun and compete. I never thought of individual honors,” said Griffith. “It’s still really nice to be selected by your colleagues, and to know they view you as deserving of this.”


▪ After freshmen took three of the top seven spots at last year’s girls’ Division 1 state meet, the pipeline of top newcomers is continuing into 2023.

Canton’s star freshman, Lauren Raffetto, earned first place (20:31) in her debut on Tuesday. In addition, promising freshmen at top Bay State programs Wellesley and Newton North — Eloise Crissman (21:26) for the Raiders, and Maggie Abely (21:28) for the Tigers — delivered impressive times over the first two weeks.

Matty Wasserman can be reached at Follow him @Matty_Wasserman.